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Surge in number of female inmates takes world prison population above 10 million

Published 03/02/2016

Convicted criminals have gained qualifications in computing, cooking and art in prison, the Department of Justice said
Convicted criminals have gained qualifications in computing, cooking and art in prison, the Department of Justice said

More than 10 million people are in prison around the world after a surge in the number of female inmates, according to a new study.

Researchers said at least 10.35 million individuals are held in penal institutions, including pre-trial detainees, those on remand or offenders who have been convicted and sentenced.

However, the total could top 11 million if the unknown numbers held in detention centres in China and North Korea were included.

The prison population in England and Wales - 85,843 at the time the data was compiled in October last year - was the 16th highest in the world.

This is the third highest total in Europe behind Turkey and Russia, and the highest when compared with the other 27 EU member states.

As a rate of the population - 148 prisoners per 100,000 people - England and Wales was 102nd globally out of a total of 223 countries and territories for which data was available, and 19th in Europe.

Scotland and Northern Ireland, which were listed separately, had prison populations of 7,692 and 1,607 respectively which were 107th and 149th in the world, according to the report.

Their respective prison population rates - 143 per 100,000 for Scotland and 87 per 100,000 in Northern Ireland - were 109th and 159th globally.

Experts said that since around the year 2000, the world prison population has grown by almost 20% - compared with an estimated 18% growth in the general global population over the same period.

The rise appears to have been driven in particular by a sharp increase in the number of women and girls behind bars.

The female prison population has jumped by 50% since the start of the century, according to the report published by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London. This compared with an 18% increase in the number of male inmates.

As a result, the proportion of women and girls in the total world prison population has risen from 5.4% in around 2000 to 6.8%.

Roy Walmsley, who compiled the World Prison Population List, said: "It is of great concern that there are now over 10.35 million people held in penal institutions throughout the world.

"What is of greater concern is that the world prison population continues to rise, and to rise very sharply in some parts of the world.

"This should prompt policymakers in all countries to consider what they can do to limit the numbers in custody, given the high costs and disputed efficacy of imprisonment and the fact that prison overcrowding is widespread.

"The disproportionate rise in the female prison population is particularly shocking."

The US (2.2 million), China (1.65 million plus an unknown number in detention) and Russia (640,000) were listed as having the highest totals of prisoners.

Countries with the highest prison population rates were the Seychelles (799 per 100,000), the US (698 per 100,000), and St Kitts & Nevis (607 per 100,000).

Figures were not available for three countries - Eritrea, North Korea and Somalia.

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